Hamas: Israel must open Rafah crossing for truce talks to succeed
Olmert tells gov't meeting border to remain closed for now, says 'won't allow starvation' in Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan on Monday accused Israel of putting obstacles in front of Egyptian efforts to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and the militant group by refusing to open the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
"The Rafah border must be opened as part of the calm," Radwan said, repeating Hamas' demand that Egypt open the crossing if Israel doesn't.
Although the Rafah crossing lies on the Gaza-Egypt border, the passage has been closed because Europeans monitoring the crossing require Israeli security clearance to operate. That clearance has not been given since Hamas took over Gaza.
The Hamas statement came after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting that Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt will not be opened for the time being, according to a participant at the meeting.
Hamas wants the crossing reopened and a role in monitoring the border - a concession that would be tantamount to recognizing the Islamic group's rule of Gaza. Egypt has rejected that demand, and called for a return to the 2005 agreement that gives Israel and EU monitors a supervisory role.
The breakdown of the indirect truce talks would increase the likelihood that Israel would launch a threatened major military operation in Gaza against rocket and mortar squads. Olmert reiterated such a possibility in his remarks before the committee on Monday, meeting participants said.
In January, Hamas militants frustrated by the Israeli blockade blew holes in the border wall with Egypt at Rafah, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to stream out of Gaza unchecked and stock up on food, fuel and other goods made scarce by the blockade. Egypt sealed the border less than two weeks later.
Olmert told lawmakers that Israel would continue to open other Gaza crossings to humanitarian aid.
"We won't allow optimal conditions in Gaza, but we won't allow starvation, nor will we prevent medicines from entering Gaza," he was quoted as saying.
Palestinians have carried out a series of attacks on Israeli frontier terminals in the past two weeks, most recently a failed suicide truck bombing carried out by Islamic Jihad last week at the main passage for Gazans seeking medical treatment.
Palestinian officials on Monday said that around 200,000 people in northern Gaza are without running water or power as a result of the truck bombing..
The explosion cut two of the seven major power lines that come in from Israel, and the IDF has launched concerted efforts to repair the damaged lines.
Israel already restricts fuel supplies to Gaza to pressure Palestinian militants to stop their attacks. That has meant northern residents can't use electric generators or pump water from wells.
On Monday, an Islamic Jihad spokesman said the group didn't mean to cut off power but warned of more attacks.